Friday, August 17, 2007

Head down to Adriatico

It is one of the greatest, yet least commended streets in Asia. Morphing from slums to bars Adriatico Street in the central Manila district of Malate offers the best that the Philippine capital has in terms of night life yet still manages to encapsulate all the faults, frights and frissons of this third world country. Running parallel with Mabini street, Adriatico is less overtly red light; more disco light.
Starting from the bottom end – where Quirino Avenue leads onto the coastal Roxas Boulevard -the street is slumville, with a welter of narrow lanes leading off Adriatico into crowded dens, where think bunches of electric wires hang overhead and foamy water flows along the pockmarked concrete.
In amongst this poorer part of the street though is a genuine oasis – Bianca’s Garden, formerly known as True Home. As the black gates swing open, a Spanish style villa awaits amid plenty of lovely trees, a swimming pool and the generous, friendly welcome of Jupiter and his team. The rooms are large but basic with great Philippine wooden furnishings, and though the price has gone up a lot in the last five years, it is still a favoured spot in this part of the world.
At the halfway point of Adriatico is Remedios Circle, a concrete park that despite recent renovation attempts still looks a bit duff. Nevertheless, this is the hub around which the street hums.
There’s the wonderous CafĂ© Havana, with mojitos that even Hemmingway would have approved of, and a cigar bar upstairs. Havana’s fantastic Cuban style band gets going after 9pm till the wee hours. Across the way from Havana is the Korean Palace, kimchi central, a place to gorge on barbeques and soju. The street in between Havana and the Korean Palace, San Andres, is full of outdoor barbeque shacks where blue marlin ribs or tuna belly can be rustled up for next to nothing.
Heading further up the street, past the booming music of Flintstones and Padi’s Point, a Starbuck’s juts out from the Malate Pensionne, a sad infringement on what used to be the backpackers’ mecca in this archipelago a decade or so ago; since then though the pensionne has gone a bit upmarket. Back in the day, it served as a great place to meet people time and time again after jaunts around the islands, because the number of travelers was so few you’d often bump into the same bunch at the pensionne where its freezer worked overtime to ensure the San Miguels were amongst the coldest in the capital.
Continuing the walk further north then, is the steet’s only properly decent hotel, the Pan Pacific where room rates start at US$120 and up.
Further up on the left is Mey Lin, perhaps the best Chinese restaurant on the street, with decent hand pulled noodles, dimsum and braised aubergine.
Just before that on the opposite side is Mocha Blends whose espresso serves to get you through the often exhausting Manila day.
At the junction of Julio Nakpil, where the cavernous Robinson’s shopping mall continues to expand, on the left is a barber shop, used to be known as Bruno’s, now under new management with the same staff but less exciting name, Barberos. Inside is the quintessential barber shop – leather reclining seats, mirrors everywhere, barbers in uniform ready with sharp single blade razors or scissors depending on what ‘Sir’ demands. For my money the scalp massage is pretty unmissable.
The street continues all the way up to Padre Faura, with the encroaching Robinson’s mall taking much of the right hand side. At the top is the much written about Kamayan restaurant, with its 400 peso buffet – avoid it, the service is slow, the food old and if you hang a left as Adriatico hits Padre Faura to Mabene where Watson’s is on the corner, just next to that is the supremely good value German establishment, Munchen Bar and Grill, whose goulash soup is well worth the walk. But the street of iniquity that is Mabini, with all its oddities such as the bar run by midgets, will have to be for a separate post.

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